Martha’s Vineyard club pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter in boy’s 2021 drowning

A 3-year-old boy drowned at the club’s pool last summer during a children’s activity program.

Sign for The Field Club, an exclusive Martha’s Vineyard tennis and pool club in Edgartown. Danny McDonald/Globe Staff

The company behind an exclusive Martha’s Vineyard recreational club pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the drowning death of a 3-year-old boy last summer.

Boat House LLC, which owns the Boathouse & Field Club in Edgartown, was charged with corporate involuntary manslaughter caused by wanton or reckless conduct after Henry Bowman Backer drowned at a children’s activity program on July 26, 2021.

A representative for the club pleaded guilty to the charges Friday and agreed to pay $100,000 to the boy’s family and to five years probation, The Boston Globe reported.

The child’s parents, Stephen and Ellie Backer, said they will donate the $100,000 to the American Red Cross to provide lifeguard training on Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cape Cod, according to the paper.


As part of the probation, the club is prohibited from holding any camps with water-related activities for kids under the age of 6.

The Backer family members, who are Brooklyn residents, were not in the courtroom Friday. However, Henry’s parents provided victim impact statements by video. 

“This is not the story of a tragic accident, this is the story of a crime,” Stephen Backer told the court, according to the Globe report. Backer went on to describe his vivid recurring nightmares of the drowning, which include scenes from his son’s perspective. 

“I picture him grasping for help, towards the legs just out of reach, trying to get the life-saving attention that he needs from the adults who were supposed to keep him safe,” Backer told the court.

Henry’s mother, Ellie, had packed her son’s floaties with his bag the morning she dropped him off at the club, according to the Globe. She had been told by staff that she should supply Henry’s floaties, which Ellie said he required if in the pool. A club employee reportedly told a state trooper after the drowning that it is the child’s responsibility to remember to wear the floaties before getting in the pool, according to the paper.


According to the Globe report, no staff members were tasked with watching specific children. Henry was found floating face-down in the pool by a lifeguard folding towels. Staff performed CPR and used a defibrillator on him before he was taken to an area hospital. He was then flown to Boston’s Children’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Henry’s parents described him as “a kind and sensitive and understood his feelings. He thought about the people in his life when they weren’t around and imagined ways to make them happy.”


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